5 advantages of working for a start-up

Startups reports from Silicon Milkroundabout on what start-ups have to offer new recruits

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Thousands of young web developers, software engineers and product managers traded the sunshine for start-ups last weekend at the third bi-annual Silicon Milkroundabout.

The event, which is the brainchild of Songkick founders Pete Smith, Michelle You and Ian Hogarth, brought together 100 of the UK’s best tech start-ups, to connect them to talent which may otherwise be snatched up by industry giants such as Amazon or Goldman Sachs.

The initiative aims to highlight the advantages of working for a start-up, following a dearth of applications for advertised vacancies for software developers. There were more than 800 vacancies up for grabs at this weekend’s event and, although start-ups may be unable to seduce new recruits with the same perks as large corporates, they have plenty else to offer.

Getting this message out to jobseekers was also the mission at NACUE’s Startup Career Launchpad, which took place earlier this month. The event brought together 150 students and graduates, and a host of speakers from the start-up scene, to highlight the benefits of working for a start-up.

At both events, the message was clear: this is not just a viable career path; there are distinct advantages to joining a fledgling, entrepreneurial firm. Here are five of them:

1. Development opportunities

Start-ups offer new recruits greater opportunities to get stuck in and innovate than more established businesses. As Joe Cohen, founder of Seatwave says: “I want people who take the ball, run with it, and get sh*t done.”

The start-up mentality encourages risk-taking, giving employees the freedom to prove themselves and grow – often much faster than in an environment structured by annual reviews.

“Start-ups are often smaller teams so you can have a lot more impact and there’s more responsibility you can grab, which isn’t the case in a large company,” Songkick’s Smith says.

2. A chance to shine

Not only does working intimately with a small team allow graduates to observe and learn from their colleagues, it also ensures that their own contribution is noticed and rewarded.

“Hiring is very hard so one of the things a start-up will do, almost automatically, is to look around the team and make a call as to whether anyone might want to take on a bit more responsibility or shift to a different role,” Smith adds. “You get to take on duties as and when they come, to expand your horizons professionally.”

3. Dynamic environment

There’s nothing like a new venture to create a dynamic, soulful working environment. By entering a young company at the early stages, new recruits get to help bring an idea to life, share the success of early triumphs and help the company achieve real, tangible growth. There is also likely to be minimal – if any – bureaucracy, leaving employees free to innovate.

“The best thing about working in a start-up is having the ability to make things happen,” says Raj Dey, founder of Enternships.

“There is a great sense of adventure working in a start-up,” explains Nico Perez, founder of Mixcloud. “Start-up life is a constant sense of excitement. You never know what’s going to happen in six months’ time.”

4. Choosing your team

Since we spend more time at work than anywhere else, it is crucial to have a great professional – and ideally personal – chemistry with your colleagues. This is integral to a successful working life, yet often not given the weight it should be.

In a large organisation, new recruits are unlikely to even meet most of the people they’ll spend their days with before they start, let alone go on to influence future hiring decisions. However, this is a key unique selling point start-ups can offer.

“If you’re part of a six or 10 person team, you’re going to get a say on who’s hired. You’re probably going to have power, at least to veto, if not to make a hire. That’s huge – that you get to choose who you sit next to, who you work with. You just don’t get that in any other job,” Smith says.

5. Entrepreneurial training

Not only do start-up personnel get to help bring their boss’s entrepreneurial idea to life, they get unrivalled business training to stand them in good stead if they want to start a venture of their own.

The founders of fast growth start-up Peppersmith, for example, previously worked at Innocent Drinks and, as some of the company’s earliest employees, held a variety of roles in their 13 years developing the business. Similarly, Ricardo Parro was the second developer through the door at Wonga, where he had “unparalleled” opportunities to build systems from the ground up. He has since co-founded a start-up of his own, Top Deals London.

“If you want to set up your own company one day it’s a great insight into the business side of running a start-up,” Smith says. “The whole thing just works really well for your career.”

Of course working in a start-up won’t be for everyone. Some people thrive working intensively with a small team, while others prefer the security of a large business and knowing what they’re going to be doing every day. That’s fine – the latter probably aren’t suited to the start-up environment anyway – but prospective employees shouldn’t be put off by assuming that start-up employment is unstable or risky.

Diana Proca, founder of Work in Startups, argues that start-ups are no longer a risky bet as, even if they fail, their networks will see you through to your next job.

“If you pick the right start-up it’s usually got a good runway – a couple of years, maybe three (that’s actually a really long time to work for one company),” Smith adds. “If you’re worried about the stability side of things, just think of it as a two or three year block in your career. That’s not going to hurt you at all.”

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